Natural chemicals in vegetables cut risk of insulin resistance

Vegetables cut insulin resistanceIn the first study of its kind, research has uncovered another string to the ‘health bow’ of vegetables, showing carotenoids, the natural plant chemicals in vegies, may halve the risk of insulin resistance in adults, a major risk factor for some of the country’s biggest killers.

The new study, published in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s journal Nutrition & Dietetics, tracked the eating habits of 938 men and women over three years, and compared their intake of phytochemicals called carotenoids found in vegetables to their risk of insulin resistance.[i]

Researchers found those who ate the most of the carotenoids B-carotene and B-cryptoxanthin (found in many vegies, such as spinach, carrots, red capsicum and pumpkin) had a 58 per cent and 49 per cent lower risk of insulin resistance respectively, compared with those who ate the least.

According to Duane Mellor, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia: “Insulin is a hormone, and is vital in helping our bodies use glucose (sugars) from the foods we eat.  But when people have insulin resistance, our bodies ‘resist’ the hormone, and over time, this can lead to high blood sugar levels.

“So the more we do to help keep insulin doing its job effectively, the more we reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes, Australia’s fastest-growing chronic disease,[ii] as well our risk of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.[iii]

autumn produceAccording to the researchers, the protective effect of some types of carotenoids is most likely because of their antioxidant properties.

Dr Mellor said although studies have shown that antioxidants protect against oxidative stress in the test-tube, the way they seem to stop chronic disease getting a hold in our bodies is a little subtler.  “In simple terms they help our bodies deal with the stress of metabolism by making blood vessels ‘more bouncy’ and our liver more able to deal with what life throws at itiv,” said Dr Mellor.

This research backs up the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend most Australians eat a minimum of five serves of vegetables each day.

“Vegetables are packed full of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, fibre, and these vital phytochemicals, such as carotenoids, that can protect against chronic diseases,” said Dr Mellor.

Dr Mellor, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, points to everyday vegies that are in season over winter, such as carrots, spinach and broccoli, as excellent sources of carotenoids.

“We need to do much better to reap those long term health benefits. Only seven per cent of Australians eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day,[iv] and eating more of them is such an easy way to help avoid devastating diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some types of cancer,” said Dr Mellor.

Prepared from a media release from the Dietitians Association of Australia

[i] Mirmiran P et al. Association of dietary carotenoids and the incidence of insulin resistance in adults: Tehran lipid and glucose study. Nutrition & Dietetics 2016; 73:162-8.

[ii] Diabetes Australia, Diabetes in Australia.

[iii] Mirmiran P et al. Association of dietary carotenoids and the incidence of insulin resistance in adults: Tehran lipid and glucose study. Nutrition & Dietetics 2016; 73:162-8.

[iv] Mellor D & Naumovski N. Effect of cocoa in diabetes: the potential of the pancreas and liver as key target organs, more than an antioxidant effect? International Journal of Food Science and Technology 2016; 51(4): 829-841.

[v]Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15


Stay well this winter with winning meals

Stay well with winter mealsAfter a bumper cold and flu season last year, dietitians are urging Australians to boost their immune system this winter by tapping into nutritious comfort foods.

According to the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), focusing on whole foods, including those containing vitamin C, zinc and protein, can help immunity – a useful weapon in fighting off the germs that cause colds and flu.

Figures from the Department of Health show more than 14,000 cases of the flu were reported in Australia last year, a 36 per cent increase from the year before.[i] And the flu accounts for 13,500 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths among Australians aged over 50 years.[ii]

While healthy eating may not ward off germs entirely, DAA spokesperson Simone Austin said making nutritious meals a priority in the colder months can reduce the likelihood and severity of colds.

She added that a nutritious diet is particularly important in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, whose immune systems may already be compromised.

“Foods high in vitamin C include capsicum, broccoli, kiwi fruit, strawberries and citrus fruit. Zinc is found in fish, seafood, beef and lamb, which also provide good-quality protein. Baked beans and pumpkin seeds also provide zinc. So there’s plenty of nutritious and tasty options.

Spicy goulash soup with paprika.“Now that winter has finally arrived, it’s time to enjoy tasty, warming foods that give you, and your immune system, a boost,” said Ms Austin, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

According to Ms Austin, a nutritious winter diet need not be expensive or complicated.

She recommends nourishing winter meals, such as:

  • Beef and bean stew
  • Porridge topped with pumpkin seeds and chopped nuts
  • Warming seafood soup with added dark leafy greens and slices of capsicum
  • Grainy toast or a wholemeal muffin topped with baked beans
  • Delicious fruit crumbles, using fresh or frozen berries.

For tailored nutrition advice on keeping healthy this winter, DAA recommends seeking the support of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

[i] Australian Government, Department of Health. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Viewed 2 June 2016

[ii] Australian Government, Department of Health. Influenza. Viewed 2 June 2016.

Further information: 
Dietitians Association of Australia

Based on a press release issued from the DAA 8 June 2016


Misleading media reports on high fat, low carbohydrate diet for Australians

Fast Food QuestionsIf you read the recent news reports, or saw the story on Channel 7 News on high-fat diets, you may want to read the following response from the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA).

Once again, this highlights the importance of seeking factual information that is backed up by scientific evidence, rather than simply believing ‘anecdotal evidence’, or information that does not hold up under scientific scrutiny.

The response from the DAA is as follows:

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is disappointed with recent media reports, including a piece on Channel 7 News (23 May 2016) titled ‘Fatty foods don’t make you fat, but sugar is off the menu: Dieticians (sic)’. 

These alarmist reports contain many factual inaccuracies, with the information presented to Australians not in line with the latest evidence.

Sadly, such reports only confuse the Australian public about what to eat for good health. DAA, and the 5,900 members the Association represents, take very seriously our responsibility of promoting accurate, balanced and complete nutrition information to the public.

We are deeply concerned that yesterday’s media reports suggest ‘dietitians’ agree with the statements in the news reports, as this is not the case.

Check the qualifications of anyone providing nutrition advice

DAA recommends checking the nutrition qualifications of anyone providing dietary advice. As with any field, it’s important that advice is provided by those qualified to do so, working within their scope of practice.

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) are nutrition scientists with a minimum of four years’ university study behind them. APDs assess individuals and provide tailored, expert nutrition advice and support, based on the latest evidence. They undertake ongoing training and development to ensure they are up-to-date, and like other health professionals, are bound by professional standards and accountable for the advice they provide.

Unfortunately, an APD was not interviewed for the Channel 7 News story, or other associated stories.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines: Evidence-based guidelines Australians can trust

It is without basis, and grossly misleading, to claim the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) are ‘making us sick’ (as was the suggestion in the Channel 7 News story).

The evidence-based ADG, which were developed by independent experts in nutrition, working with the National Health and Medical Research Council, provide a framework for healthy eating – and DAA supports these recommendations for the healthy population. An assessment of more than 55,000 studies informed the recent review of the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines.

The ADGs are similar to evidence-based guidelines around the world, across a range of cultures and food systems – but our Guidelines are specific to issues and concerns within the Australian population.

Regarding fat and carbohydrates, the nutrition science tells us:

  • When it comes to carbohydrates, good-quality choices (such wholegrains and legumes) can be part of a healthy diet, and are in fact recommended to help meet daily fibre targets. When it comes to wholegrains, for example, there is strong evidence to link wholegrain intake with lower body mass index, smaller waist circumference, and reduced risk of being overweight.
  • A diet high in saturated fat is a risk factor for heart disease, one of our nation’s biggest killers. Saturated fats tend to increase LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol in the blood and current evidence suggests these should be eaten sparingly to minimize the risk of heart disease. Instead, foods that are rich in unsaturated fats (such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) are recommended.

DAA agrees with the message to limit manufactured (or processed) foods – this is what the ADG also recommend, so this is nothing new. The ADG encourage Australians to choose whole foods, such as vegetables, legumes, fruit, lean meats and eggs. And for foods within a package, DAA recommends Australian read the nutrition information panel to be able to make informed choices. An APD can work with people on these, and other strategies, to help them achieve a healthy eating plan, tailored to their individual needs.

autumn produceDAA points out that the ‘panel of global dietary experts’ mentioned in yesterday’s media reports consist of the UK-based National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration – whose views on saturated fat have been questioned by the UK’s Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England. See the response by Public Health England to the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration opinion paper.

DAA appeals to journalists reporting on diet-related issues in Australia to report responsibly, and to source and discuss facts with local experts.  


This article was prepared with a press release from the Dietitians Association of Australia, 24 May 2016.

Salt: is it really that bad?

Depositphotos_29890303_m-2015Salt has been around for centuries. It preserves food and adds flavour to foods. In fact, salt is the world’s most popular flavour enhancer. But despite its popularity, most of us are eating too much of it, to the detriment of our health.

Why we need salt?

Our body actually needs salt to function properly. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride ions which the body cannot make itself, hence our need to get it from our food.

Sodium regulates the volume of fluid in the body and aids the uptake of various nutrients into the cells. Sodium plays a role in transmitting nerve signals throughout the body and aids muscle contraction. It also influences the pH levels in the blood.

Chloride is important for the body as well. Like sodium, it influences the pH levels in the body and fluid movement. It is also important for digestion.

How much salt are we really eating?

Most Australians consume around nine grams of salt per day, according to the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH). While nine grams doesn’t sound like a lot, our bodies actually only need one gram per day.

Health experts recommend we  reduce our salt intake to a maximum of six grams per day. However, Australians with high blood pressure, or existing cardiovascular disease should reduce it to no more than four grams per day.

Dangers of too much salt

You may be wondering why salt is such a big deal. It is widely recognized that diets high in salt can lead to:

  • High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) which in turn can increase your risk of experiencing stroke and heart attack, two of the biggest causes of death in Australia today.
  • Kidney disease
  • Stomach cancer.

Salt has also been attributed to aggravating asthma and contributing to osteoarthritis.

Why are we eating so much salt?

Even if you don’t add salt to your foods, chances are you are still consuming too much. Salt is found in many processed and prepared foods that we eat. It is commonly found in takeaway foods, fries, burgers, frozen meals, sauces, marinades, processed meats, potato chips, nuts, tinned veggies, spreads, cheese and biscuits.

And let’s not forget Vegemite, the holy grail of Aussie diets, which contains a whopping 7.5g of salt per 100g. That equates to one gram of salt for every piece of toast topped with the spread.

The importance of food labels

While you don’t have to eliminate all the foods listed above to reduce your salt intake, you should focus on choosing low-salt foods when at the grocery store. That’s where food labels come in. It’s the sodium in the salt that is bad for our health, so that’s what you need to focus on.


  • Less than 120mg sodium per 100g is low
  • 120 to 600mg sodium per 100g is medium
  • More than 600mg sodium per 100g is high.

Note: Australia only has a definition for low salt foods, so the medium and high levels here are based on the UK recommendations.

Is one type of salt better than another?

Gourmet rock and sea salts have been popularised by TV chefs and ‘wellness warriors’. Many manufacturers claim their product is ‘natural’, contains ‘essential minerals’, and is a ‘tastier and healthier alternative’ to table salt. However, according to the World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), salt is still salt. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the sea or from the Himalayas, whether they are crystals or grains, or what the price tag is. The bottom line is they all contain an equally high sodium chloride content as table and cooking salt.

Tautumn produceips to reduce the amount of salt in your diet

Reducing the amount of salt in your diet doesn’t have to be difficult. By following some of these tips, you will make great progress in cutting back on salt.

  • Don’t add salt to your food during cooking or at the table.
  • Use lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, or herbs and spices as an alternative to salt when cooking.
  • Avoid stock cubes, soy sauce, mustard, pickles and mayonnaise where possible. At the very least choose low salt varieties.
  • Focus on eating fresh vegetables for lunch and evening meals.
  • Make healthy snacks convenient instead of reaching for processed food.
  • Reduce your consumption of high fat, high sugar or high salt snack foods.
  • Keep takeaways and fast foods such as burgers, fried chicken and pizza to an occasional treat.
  • Include healthier options such as boiled eggs and salad, raw vegetable sticks and fresh fruit pieces in lunch boxes.
  • Limit your consumption of processed meats.
  • Avoid consuming salty spreads on a daily basis.
  • Check food labels for salt to compare products, brands and varieties and choose the lower salt options.
  • Choose low sodium foods (less than 120mg per 100g) where possible and avoid high sodium (more than 500mg per 100g) foods.
  • Limit salty snacks.

So next time you reach for the salt, ask yourself if you really need it.

Further information:

World Action on Salt and Health

Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health


Why you should care about Healthy Weight Week

Dangers of being overweightHealth Weeks come and go, and unless we are directly affected by the condition or illness being highlighted, or know someone who is, we generally don’t take too much notice.

This week (15-21 February 2016) is Australia’s Healthy Weight Week.

You should take note, because statistically, your health probably depends upon it.


Obesity rates are rising

According to a recent study published in the Lancet, shows that Australian obesity rates are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world.

Currently, 63 per cent of adults are classified as overweight, with 28 per cent obese. Alarmingly, around 25 per cent of teenagers carry too much weight.

To put that in perspective, out of every 10 of you reading this blog — around six of you are overweight with three of you being obese. One quarter of all teenagers who read this are likely to be overweight also.


Carrying too much weight is dangerous

For most of us, being overweight is uncomfortable, which is why we want to lose weight in the first place. We struggle zipping up our jeans, that spare tyre around our middle is constantly in the way, and we can’t keep up with the kids anymore.

But some of us are ‘comfortable’ carrying a few (or more) extra kilos. While it’s great to feel comfortable in your own skin, it has been scientifically proven that carrying too much body fat puts your life at risk.

Being overweight can lead to a host of problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Musculoskeletal problems including osteoarthritis and back pain
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Gallstones.

Even if you currently don’t exhibit signs of any of the above you are at a higher risk to develop them later on, than someone who is a healthy weight.

For the sake of our long-term health, most of us need to address our weight issues.


What you can do

Healthy Weight Week, an initiative of the Dietitians Association of Australia, aims to address the problem of obesity in Australia.

The first point of action should be to determine whether you are a healthy weight or not. A simple check in the mirror, will usually suffice for most of us.

Dangers of being overweightIf you need to change your life for the better and shed some excess body fat, speak to your doctor.

Losing weight is not just a matter of “going on a diet”. If you carry excess fat, you should have a check-up with your doctor to see if you have any underlying health issues (e.g. high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc.). Once you have a baseline for your health, your doctor will be able to advise you on how much weight you should aim to lose, and the safest and most effective way to go about it.

It’s never too late to make a change for the good, and avoid becoming one of Australia’s obesity statistics. So why not take the first step today?


Further information:

Forget fad diets: portions are the go

Spaghetti with salmon

Dietitians are calling on Australians to start the New Year with a bang by making this year’s resolution to forget fad diets and instead aim for perfect portions.

A new survey of 1,230 Australians, commissioned by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), found about half of all adults aged 18 to 64 (54%) are unhappy with their current weight[i].

DAA will soon launch its annual Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (AHWW) campaign (15-21 February) to make it easier for all Aussies to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

According to the peak body for dietitians, eating the right amount, rather than piling up the plate, is a key way to reduce your kilojoule intake and manage your weight.

‘We all know fad diets come and go, and usually end in failure. So rather than starting the diet merry-go-round this year, make your New Year’s resolution about being more aware of the right portion sizes and how much you’re eating,’ said DAA Spokesperson and AHWW ambassador Professor Clare Collins.

Professor Collins said getting back into the kitchen for more home-cooked meals and keeping a check on how much you serve yourself and your family is a good place to start.

But according to Professor Collins, there’s more to this story.

‘Research shows that substituting vegetables, and other low-kilojoule, nutrient-rich foods, for those that are ‘energy-dense’ is the way to go. This helps to fill you up, without tipping the scales in the wrong direction.

‘Aim for 2-3 or more cups of vegetables or salad a day. At the moment, most Aussie get nowhere near that. So a simple step when cooking at home is to start your meal with a salad or add an extra serve of vegetables to your main meal. Let vegetables fill at least half your plate,’ said Professor Collins, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Professor Collins’ research[ii] has found Australians typically overestimate portion sizes, especially for foods like pasta (a guide good is about a cup) and chocolate (should be no bigger than half a small chocolate bar), compared to what health authorities recommend, and this can lead to ‘kilo creep’ over time.

‘When there’s more food on the plate or when we use bigger plates and bowls, we eat more. The difference between one and two cups of pasta at dinner is around 870kJ. If you eat a double portion size on a daily basis those extra kilojoules could see you gain around 1-2 kilos a month if you don’t burn this off doing extra exercise.

‘To eat less without thinking about it, switch to using smaller plates so you don’t notice you’re serving yourself less food,’ said Professor Collins.

healthy wrapThe DAA survey found that already 26 per cent of Australians said they would review their portion sizes.

‘The challenge is to get everyone to use simple, pain-free strategies – such as smaller plates, greater proportions of vegetables and cooking more at home – to help manage weight,’ said Professor Collins.

Award-winning celebrity cook, Callum Hann, and Accredited Practising Dietitian, Themis Chryssidis (both from Sprout), are supporting this year’s Australia’s Healthy Weight Week, teaching Australians about home cooking and choosing the right portions sizes.

Hundreds of health-focused events, including nutrition workshops and cooking classes, are being held around the country to mark the week. Find out what’s on near you, and get nutrition tips and recipes, at

Prepared by a Press Release from the Dietitians Association of Australia



 [i] Omnipoll survey (October 2015) of 1,230 Australians adults aged 18-64 years, commissioned by the Dietitians Association of Australia.

[ii] Collins CE et al. How big is a food portion? A pilot study in Australian Families. Health Promotion Journal of Australia (2015): 26, 83–88.

[iii] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Retrieved on December 16 2015 from

[iv] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-2012. Retrieved from